Swedish rapper testifies he feared for his life


When he stepped off a plane 16 months ago, David Jassy, a rapper and record producer from Stockholm, planned to make it big in American pop music. On Tuesday, he finally captured the attention of an important audience, but the stage -- a downtown L.A. courtroom -- was one he never wanted.

Jassy, 35, took the stand at his murder trial and spoke directly to jurors who will decide whether he spends perhaps the rest of his life in a California prison or returns to Sweden, where he has a successful career, a child and a fashion model girlfriend.

The performer is accused of punching, kicking and running over a pedestrian in what authorities have described as a horrifying act of road rage. In two hours on the witness stand, Jassy repeatedly said he never intended to harm the victim and sought instead to defend himself and his girlfriend after the man banged on the hood of their rented SUV in a Hollywood crosswalk.

“I was in fear for my life. I didn’t know if he had a gun, a knife. I know L.A. is way more dangerous than Sweden is,” Jassy testified.

Both Jassy and his girlfriend, Therese Fischer, gave their first public accounts of the November 2008 confrontation, which occurred after the couple visited a Sunset Strip nightclub. Fischer, whose passenger seat would have given her a close-up view of the encounter, said she was too drunk to remember much beyond her fear.

Jassy, who had not been drinking, admitted he was “irritated” when the pedestrian, John Osnes, a 55-year-old jazz pianist, struck his vehicle. But Jassy, who said he exited the SUV to talk to Osnes and look for damage, insisted it was Osnes who escalated the encounter by flashing “a very devilish grin” and throwing a punch.

“One minute I’m sitting in my car driving, and another, I’m in the middle of the street fighting with this man. Crazy,” Jassy said.

“Did you want to fight this man?” defense attorney Alec Rose asked.

“Absolutely not, I wanted to go home,” Jassy replied.

His testimony was at odds with the accounts of half a dozen prosecution eyewitnesses. Their testimony suggested a lopsided encounter, with Jassy as the out-of-control aggressor. Osnes, they said, yelled and slapped at the SUV after it came close to striking him in the crosswalk but backed off as soon as Jassy exited the car. The younger man pursued Osnes, they said, first punching him in the head, then kicking him in the face with enough force to render Osnes unconscious. Finally, Jassy drove the SUV over the injured man’s body, witnesses said.

While on the stand Tuesday, Jassy said the witnesses were wrong.

The “surrender” gesture some witnesses recalled Osnes making was actually a strange clawing motion that scared him, he said. The brutal kick that others recounted could only have been incidental contact as he tried to jump away from Osnes, he said. Driving over Osnes’ body was an accident that occurred when he tried to avoid hitting another bystander, he said.

Jassy also told jurors that the panic he felt when Osnes hit the right side of his SUV was intensified because Jassy’s mother had been killed by a drunk driver that struck the same area while they were riding together.

“It was here I go again. It was just déjà vu,” he said.

At the time of his arrest, Jassy was cultivating a tough persona online, identifying himself as “DJ Monopoly” and wearing a fierce stare and a hooded sweat shirt on his MySpace page. On the witness stand, he spoke in a soft voice and wore a conservative black suit that gaped over a frame slimmed significantly by more than a year in jail.

He broke into tears as he recounted a police detective informing him that Osnes had died from his injuries and his eyes welled again as he mentioned his son, whose image, he said, had flashed into his mind as he fled the scene.

In a cross-examination that is scheduled to continue today, a prosecutor noted that Jassy hadn’t mentioned his son or his mother’s accident in an hour-plus interview with police and suggested he was trying to gain the jurors’ sympathy.

She also questioned Jassy’s claims of self-defense.

“If you were in fear for your life, why would you get out of your rental car to check for damages?” Deputy Dist. Atty. Sarika Kapoor asked.

“I never thought it would escalate the way that it did,” he replied.